Chair Arch by Wallpaper*

V&A Project

19 — 27 Sept 2009

Multi-Disciplinary Design

London Design Festival collaborated with Wallpaper* to commission Chair Arch at the V&A in 2009, constructed solely of Ercol Originals ‘Stacking Chairs’.

The arch was located in the courtyard of the V&A Museum and was designed with Martino Gamper. The idea revived a long-forgotten Great British tradition from the Victorian age, when towns would celebrate special occasions, for example a royal visit, with a party and a commemorative arch spanning the high street. The arches would preside over processions, speeches and dances, and would often be composed of the town’s main commodity. For example, in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire – at one time the home to the British chair-making industry – chair arches were regularly constructed, with the first known version in 1877 marking Queen Victoria’s visit to Disraeli at Hughenden Manor. Acknowledging London’s central position in the world of design, London Design Festival with Wallpaper* and Gamper designed a beautiful contemporary structure using more than 160 Ercol Originals ‘Stacking Chairs’. The new design was realised by London-based engineering firm Atelier One. In contrast to the traditional arches, which generally consisted of a scaffolding frame with some chairs attached, the new design was a self-supported structure. The Ercol chairs were stacked and spaced carefully in two catenary arches that overlapped at their apex. The form was at once modern, organic and supremely elegant, resembling, in Gamper’s words, ‘a human spine’. One of the arches consisted of the Ercol chairs in their natural wood finish, while the other was stained in rainbow colours by Gamper himself. Ercol, one of the only remaining British chair manufacturers still based in Buckinghamshire, has since discovered that the company was, in fact, involved in the very first chair arch, bringing the story full circle. Supported by Atelier One.